Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You've Come a Long Way

I've been sharing my personal business with you all for months now (LOL). So, I feel no need to stop now. In order for me to set up the premise for my next post, I have to explain how I found myself in the situation I'm about to describe....

Currently, my driver's license is "restricted", due to a large amount (okay...a ridiculous amount :) of parking tickets that I amassed over several months last year. For that reason, I am not allowed to register a car in the state of New York until April 2013. Furthermore, I'm only authorized to drive a vehicle to and from my place of business or to/from medical or dental appointments. (Sometimes, I rent a car and drive anyway in my stubborn defiance. But I try not to get carried away. :) So this explains why I found myself riding the bus to a friend's house this weekend. (Thankfully, in NYC one does not necessarily need to drive from point A to point B since mass transit runs 24/7. It is, after all, the city that never sleeps.)

Usually, my daughter will drive me wherever I need to go, or I will hop into a taxi if need be. But from time to time, I'm not above jumping on mass transit to get to where I want to go. So, there I was on Saturday afternoon - on the bus on my way to visit a friend for an afternoon of wine, chit-chat, and laughs. It was slightly overcast, and a little drizzle had begun to fall across Staten Island. I live very close to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, so I had walked there and was lucky to get one of the 'single seats' that allowed me the benefit of not having to sit next to anyone else. The bus was pretty packed, so a lot of passengers were forced to stand. I settled into my seat, popped my headphones in my ears, and turned up the volume for my quick excursion.

The bus was full as a young lady boarded with a toddler and another baby in a stroller. As she stepped on board, I noticed several eye-rolls from the passengers seated near me at the front of the bus. I paused the music on my phone and listened as people sucked their teeth and mumbled under their breath. The bus driver told her that she would have to fold up the stroller and hold the baby since the bus was so packed. The young lady (she appeared to be no older than 18 or 19 years old) immediately caught an attitude. Her voice dripping with irritation, she said, "I can't fold up the stroller and hold on at the same time. So..." She shrugged, and gave him the all-too-familiar 'hood girl sneer' and pushed the stroller past him as she paid her fare. A woman seated in the front gave up her seat for the toddler. A man got up and allowed the woman to sit beside her child. She thanked them and did her best to pull the big stroller close to her, so as not to be too much of an obstacle for the other passengers who were seated or standing near her. The bus rolled on, and at the next stop several more passengers got on. Seeing the bulky stroller as they boarded, most of them voiced their displeasure as they boarded, dramatically stepped over her stroller, and shot her dirty looks to illustrate their annoyance. She gave them just as much attitude in return, shrugging her shoulders in an "Oh well! Get over it!" kind of way, as each of them stepped over her.

A true people watcher, I took it all in as I turned my music back on. I watched the young lady's facial expression shift from annoyance to embarrassment, and then spread into a smile as she locked eyes with her baby as he sat in the stroller before her. Her smile faded again as she looked at the disapproving expressions of the passengers surrounding her. I saw myself in that young lady - the 'me' that I was long ago, as a young single mother who the world seemed to think was just in the way! I remembered being in that same position, recalled being the recipient of all those eye-rolls, whispers, and side-eyes as I went about my day to day existence as someone whom most people viewed as just another statistic. I knew that the young lady's attitude was really just a disguise for the shame she felt. The chip on her shoulder was helping her mask the pain in her heart, the wish that she could somehow disappear amid all the stares.

I looked around at some of the people who were giving her the disapproving looks. One woman was older than me, probably a mother herself. Another young lady looked to be about the same age as the young mother, only she was clearly living a very different reality. Her hair was done, she had time that morning to put on a full face of makeup, her nails were professionally manicured, and she wore an outfit that bore designer labels. Her looks of disapproval seemed to come from a place of "Hmmm! That could never be me!" One lady seated nearby had her own baby on her lap. The only difference was, her child's father stood near her. She had help, whereas the object of all the negative murmurs was alone with her two children.

I caught the single mom's eye and gave her a reassuring smile. She gave me a weak one in return and looked away. I wanted to tell her that it gets better, that I had been in her shoes once and it had all turned out alright. But, she didn't seem too receptive to a pep talk under the circumstances. So instead of butting in to her business, I gazed out the window and reflected on how far I've come.

All those years ago, I had felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. It felt like everyone else's life was going so smoothly, while mine was in a constant whirlwind. The choices I had made caused my life to be much harder than the lives of my peers. There was no prom, no senior ski trip, no pep rallies or going away to college in my forecast. Instead, I was up all night with a teething baby, making pediatric appointments and worrying about what my future held. I remember getting those same disapproving looks, being the subject of those same whispered condemnations, and having to endure the same embarrassment. I shook my head at the memory. And then I thought about how I had managed to turn it all around.

Having made up my mind that I would not tolerate being a "statistic" all of my life, I did whatever it took to graduate on time with my high school class (that included summer school, a zero period course - which I never even knew existed until I had to arrive at school at 7am to take a class that began before first period - remaining in school every day all the way through twelfth period, as well as many extra credit reports, and make-up exams). Once I graduated, I attended college, determined to make something of myself. When college didn't pan out due to my lack of a reliable babysitter, I got a job through my church. Eventually, I went to a trade school to learn business skills, and landed job after job doing office work. Eventually, I carved out a niche for myself, managed to get on my feet, and one day at a time I made progress.

But, I hadn't done it alone. I didn't realize it then, but God had guided my footsteps the entire time. When I felt like giving up, He had placed angels in my midst to push me onward. When the future seemed bleak, He had softened the hearts of employers and school faculty members (and eventually even publishers) who opened doors and gave me a chance. As I look back on it now, I see how the long road I traveled to get to where I am today was dotted with many "rest stops" along the way. Friends, church members, landlords, supervisors, even strangers had acted as "refueling stations" for me throughout my journey - all of them guided by God's unseen hand.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

I watched the young lady get off the bus with her two children, as the drizzle descended upon them. She hurried along to her destination, and I said a quick prayer for her, as I'm sure countless people have done for me over the years. While I was at it, I thanked God for my own victory. My children and I survived! I managed to raise three very well rounded, intelligent, happy young people. None of them repeated my mistakes. Each of them has been fortunate enough to thrive. My own life has gone from tragedy to triumph. And through it all, we've beaten the odds. We've proven the naysayers wrong.

I wish I had gotten the opportunity to share my story with that young lady - to tell her, "I was once in your shoes, and I'm here to tell you that you can make it if you don't give up!"

Someone had given me that message years ago - one of those angels in disguise I told you about. Back when my children were ages eight, six, and one, and I was working two jobs, seven days a week to keep us afloat. I was at my weekend job at Toys 'R Us, and I was exhausted. Still, I managed to tack on a smile and do my best to provide quality customer service to a couple who had come in to do some Christmas shopping. I was stressed out, weighed down, and wanted nothing more than some ray of hope to get me through. In what can only be a case of God sending an angel to guide me, the young Caucasian man I was assisting - for no apparent reason - reached into his wallet and gave me a laminated card that was weathered and worn.

"Read this," he said. "It helped me get through some hard times. Maybe it will help you." Not sure how he knew that I was going through something, I thanked him, and he hurried off to the check out line. "Keep it," he said. "Don't throw it away."

I never did. I still carry it in my wallet to this day. It reads:

Don't Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow,
Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when thing seem worst that you must not quit.

It hadn't occurred to me then, but I should have passed this worn, weathered, laminated card on to that young lady on Saturday. I missed an opportunity to pass on the blessing that stranger had given me all those years ago. But perhaps by sharing it here today, someone who needs it will get the message.

Don't quit.

And if you're blessed like I've been to have made it down the long and winding road of life - over obstacles and throughout countless storms - take a moment to thank God for walking beside you, for sending angels to guide you, for dotting your road with "refueling stations" called friends, and loved ones. Don't be so quick to roll your eyes at those who are just starting out on their journey. Remember when you walked a mile in their shoes, and be grateful that you've come such a long way.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Side-Eye of the Week

This one was a no-brainer...

The WHOLE JACKSON FAMILY gets this week's side-eye. SMH...

In case you've been under a rock for the past week, here's the story in a nutshell:

A family feud of epic proportions is brewing in California.

Apparently, Paris Jackson took to Twitter as a cry for help when her grandmother, Katherine Jackson - Michael's mom, who has custody of his children - disappeared from the family compound. Paris was worried, hadn't spoken to her grandmother in days, and was making accusations that some of her aunts and uncles were holding Katherine against her will.

Turns out that Michael's siblings are none too pleased with the King of Pop's will, which left them nothing, instead naming his mother and his children as his benefactors. The siblings filed a petition to have the will thrown out, alleging that it was a fake, that Michael was out of town on the date that it was signed and, therefore, hadn't authorized that version of the will. Paris alleged that her aunts and uncles had, in essence, kidnapped Katherine in an attempt to access Michael's fortune. Katherine was silent. The world watched Paris' Twitter feed, fascinated.

What followed next was the kind of stuff that has made Jerry Springer rich!

Janet, Randy and Tito allegedly followed the children's convoy as they entered the gates of the family compound. Ambushing the children, the siblings were caught on tape arguing with each other and with the children.

Janet at one point attempted to snatch Paris' cell phone, allegedly calling her a spoiled little b*&$#!

Paris ran back to Twitter and updated us. "Gotta love fam."

Nine days passed, and still no sign of Katherine. Marlon went on TV crying, telling the interviewer that he had no idea where his mother was! He took to Twitter as well.

But I see them on television with her. How come they could not call me so I could be with her as well.
like herself. I was told by Janet, Randy and Jermaine that I could not see my mom. Doctor's order.

Hello everyone Thank you for your support. I'm tired of not knowing where my mom is. I did speak with her last night but she didn't sound

The other siblings claimed that she was in Arizona resting, as per her doctor's orders. They released a photo of Katherine playing Uno with some of the family. Everything was fine, they claimed. "Mother" was just relaxing. She wasn't answering her cell phone because she didn't want to be disturbed. There was no need to worry. But Paris wasn't buying it!

9 days and counting… so help me god i will make whoever did this pay

8 days and counting . something is really off , this isn’t like her at all .. i wanna talk directly to my grandmother!!<|3

I know it's completely unfair for them to do this to you and your brothers. We will keep trying. I love you.

Finally, Tito (who had originally signed the petition to throw out Michael's will) took his name off of the suit against the estate. Hours later, Tito's son, TJ, petitioned the court to appoint him temporary guardian of the children. He claimed that he had been allowed to speak with his grandmother on the phone, but she sounded like something was wrong. Her words were slurred. She wasn't her usual self. A judge agreed, and appointed TJ temporary guardian.

NOW, the family decided to produce Katherine. They released a video of her reading a prepared speech.

In the video she said she was fine, that no one had kidnapped her, that she was just resting, that she had turned off her cell phone for peace and quiet. She was apparently "devastated" that she had been stripped of her guardianship of the children. She assured the world that she was on her way back home immediately.

The media has widely reported that this is all a battle for control of the money. After all, whoever has custody of the kids, has access to the money. And, if Katherine had custody of the kids, why not take her on "vacation" to rest? At 82 years old, Katherine may not even fully realize what's going on.

Now, I don't claim to know the truth of all of this. But I do have a lot of questions.

Why didn't she TELL the children that she was going on vacation in another state? As their guardian, she owed them at least that much! What was all the secrecy about? If she is too stressed out to care for the children, why not pass on guardianship to someone who can?

The saddest part of all this is that a family has been reduced to such ridiculousness over money.

1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil;

These poor children are being used as pawns in a war over money that no one else earned but their deceased father. It's really sad to watch this all unfold.

Kinda helps me understand why Michael was so reclusive. With everyone around you always having ulterior motives, who wouldn't want to run and hide?

Sadly, I'm sure that Michael would join me in giving his entire family the side-eye - even the children who have aired this all out on social networks. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if Michael were alive the children wouldn't even have access to social networks! A man who longed his entire life for some semblance of privacy, would surely not approve of all these recent shenanigans.

Side-eye indeed!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blissful Silence

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time enjoying the pleasure of my own company. It was a conscious decision on my part. Months ago, I made up my mind that it was time to separate myself from the hustle and bustle of my overbooked social calendar in order to reflect on who I am and how I wish to move forward in my life. It was the best decision I've made in years!

My life is in a constant state of "GO!". There's always some event to attend, some phone call to make, some deadline to meet, some reason to sleep less and accomplish more. While I'm grateful for the people and things that often require my attention, it dawned on me that I wasn't doing myself any favors by accepting every invitation and agreeing to every request. While everyone else was getting their way, I was often left drained and exhausted, especially emotionally. Surrounding myself with different (oftentimes crazy) personalities was siphoning my energy, causing me stress and making me desperate to get away from it all. Usually the life of the party, I found myself craving nothing more than silence, solitude and PEACE!

Then, one day it occurred to me that the power was all mine. All it would take for me to get a much needed "mental vacation" was to simply step back and spend some time by myself, doing all the things that made me happy.

At first I questioned that...after all, the things that had always made me happy were fun-filled events, the company of friends,  a party at which I could enjoy a drink and a two-step, laughter, excitement, adventure! But the more I thought about it, the more apparent it became that I had 'turned a corner' in my life. The things I just listed were things that used to make me happy.

I took inventory of my life and found that, indeed, I wasn't the same person I had once been. I had done some "growing up", and had come to value some things more than I once did. I discovered that what now makes me happy are things like sitting by myself with a glass of Riesling at a sidewalk cafe on a summer afternoon in Manhattan. A good book while relaxing alone in Bryant Park. The house to myself while my kids are out doing their own thing. Grabbing my headphones and lacing up my sneakers for a walk/jog alone through my favorite park. A yoga class. The absence of conversation. Being alone with my own thoughts.

Those who noticed that I was doing new things started asking if they could come with me. I made up excuses for why they couldn't. "You might as well go on your own 'cuz there's no talking in my yoga class." "I get up really early to go for a jog, so I'm sure it won't be convenient for you." "I just spontaneously decided to go to the cafe, so don't be mad that I didn't invite you." But the truth was, for once I didn't want anyone along for the ride. I just wanted to be alone and enjoy some much needed solitude.

Even when I found myself in the company of others, my "crowd" had changed. I was no longer likely to be seen in a pack of ladies, at the club, on the dance floor, or at the bar. Instead, I found joy in such simple pleasures as a Saturday night playing board games with my family, or a Sunday morning at church praising God for His movement in my life, a day at the beach chilling in a floppy hat and sunglasses with my adorable granddaughter, a weekend visit to a museum with my kids, or a weekday spent in my childhood home listening to my mother's stories of her life as a young lady growing up in the south. The more I allowed myself the luxury of slowing things down, the happier I became.

Another 'strange' thing started happening. I started hearing God's voice much more clearly. Not in a "Moses and the Burning Bush" kind of way. :) But in a way that left no doubt as to what direction I should be moving in. We all have different names for that voice: intuition, conscience, or whatever... But I came to know it as the voice of God, directing my path, ordering my steps. There was a clear message coming through to me that I had only seen a portion of my destiny. There was so much more that The Creator had for me to do, ways in which I could use my gifts to change lives. And the first life to be changed was my own.

Taking time for me was a gift to myself. My writing became more powerful, my thoughts became clearer, my happiness increased a thousandfold. I learned to trust myself and the decisions that I make, to be inspired by things that I had once taken for granted, to let go of people and things that were not for me. I found myself happier than I had ever been before!

A friend of mine noticed the change in me. She congratulated me, and told me that I was brave to step away from those people and things that had once been a major part of my life. I realized that it was a brave thing to do. So many people are afraid to be by themselves, to be alone with their own thoughts. You see them everyday. They can't ride the train, bus or sit anywhere for more than a couple of minutes without texting or calling someone, or striking up a conversation with anyone nearby. They can't imagine going anywhere or doing anything by themselves. When no one is home with them, they're "bored" or afraid, or even sad. They have to be constantly surrounded by people, activity, conversation, even drama.

It also occurred to me that so many people remain stuck in a constant state of negativity, unhappiness, and lead unfulfilled lives out of fear of stepping out of their comfort zone. We stay at jobs that we hate, stay in friendships with people we don't even really like anymore, stay in marriages that are boring us to tears, stay in homes that we've lived in for decades, stick with a hairstyle that we've worn for years, all out of fear of change. Some of us soothe ourselves with promises of "soon, I'm going to travel; soon, I'm going to take up this new field of study; soon, I'm going to move out of state; soon..." And all the while we're lying to ourselves. And before we know it, life has passed us by.

The saddest thing I can think of is an elderly person who never really lived. They existed. They occupied space on Earth for many years. But they never truly lived their lives to the fullest - out of fear. When it's too late, they sit in the corner with sad expressions, wishing they had another shot at life. "Youth is wasted on the young," they think. What they would give for a chance to do it all differently!

Sadly, many of us are wasting our youth being bogged down by fear. I've never been afraid to try something new, to march to the beat of my own drum. My philosophy is that the worst that can happen is that it doesn't work. But at least you can say you've tried! That philosphy is one of the reasons I've moved constantly from neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state, always ready to embrace a new experience. It's the reason I took a chance all those years ago and sent my manuscript to a handful of publishers; the reason that I got up on a stage in a room full of people to perform my poetry. It is a quality that I truly admire in myself - the belief that the only thing worse than failing is never trying in the first place.

Life is short. Ask your elders who have been here for a while, and I'm willing to bet they'll tell you that it seems like "only yesterday..." when in fact kids have grown up, loved ones have come and gone, and gray hairs have started to make their debut. Time marches on, and soon (God willing), we will all find ourselves in the category of "old people".

In the meantime, while there's still time, I urge you to find the value in what I call "blissful silence". While wearing the many hats we all wear each day - Mother/Father, Employee/Boss, Husband/Wife, Friend/Mentor - don't forget to spend some time just being you.

Treat yourself to some blissful silence in the days and weeks ahead. Even it it's only for one or two days out of the month. Don't be afraid to change the things that no longer make you happy. You owe it to yourself. Trust me, you'll be glad that you did! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Poetic License

Long before I wrote my first book, I was writing poetry. It was my first love. As a kid, I wrote poems to express all the various emotions I was feeling. My poetry back then reflected my growing pains. As I got older, poetry became a sort of "therapy" for me.  I wrote through my break-ups, my make-ups, and everything in between.

While cleaning out my home office recently, I found a bunch of marble notebooks from 15 years ago! I cracked open these "time machines" and what I discovered made me as happy as if I had found a buried treasure! I read poems that I had written years ago and had long since forgotten about. Poems about my children, about love, loss and joy and triumph, about my journey through my twenties and what I wanted for my future, about my hometown of Staten Island and about the plight of black people in this country. I must admit, I was impressed with myself! I had penned literally DOZENS of poems, which reflected just about everything I had learned thus far, and what I hoped to learn as I matured.

Since writing my first novel in 2003, I haven't focused much on the poetic side of me. Lately, my writing has been centered around characters, around dialogue, scenes, chapters, and paragraphs. But flipping through the pages of those old marble notebooks was like opening a vault containing the remnants of my inner Emily Dickinson! I laughed aloud at my haikus, and recalled the circumstances surrounding each and every piece I had written all those years ago.

I used to perform my poetry at venues across NYC - Jimmy's Uptown Cafe, Nuyurican Cafe, The 5 Spot, and Poetic Soul. I went to a taping of Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam, and the entire "Black Poets Society" had been a major part of my life. It wasn't until I dusted off those old poems that I realized how much I missed that scene! The incense. The Afros. The Neo-Soul music. The drums. The melodies. The dim lights and fingers snapping in "applause". I really, really miss those things.

So I've made a promise to myself that I'll get back out there. First, just as a lover of poetry, sitting in the audience and being entertained. But, soon (hopefully once I'm done writing the two books I'm currently working on), I hope to write some new pieces and return to the stage to perform them. The thrill of sharing a new poem with a crowd of strangers is incredible! Your heart races, your hands tremble and your nerves are shot! But all it takes is a few "Mmm-hmm"s, a few "That's right!"s and some encouragement, and suddenly you get your swagger back. I can't wait to feel that rush again.

Cleaning out my home office has done more for me than just organizing my papers and files. It has given me back a part of myself that I have neglected for far too long. I have vowed to give myself permission (poetic license, if you will :) to step away from the routine of writing books and return to my first literary love. Sure, I'm a novelist, a blogger, a storyteller. But there's so much more to me than that.

My name is Tracy Brown, and I AM A POET! :)

Monday, July 16, 2012


I'm a storyteller by nature. So, when I want to get a lesson to "stick" in my children's brains, I usually tell a story that will illustrate my point, and help them remember the message. One such story is my personal favorite. It goes like this:

Once upon a time a woman saw a beautiful snake slithering in the grass. He was colorful, bright, exquisite! She felt that she MUST have him. She decided to pick him up, knowing that she could give him a great home and a wonderful life. So, she took him home and fed him the best snake food, set him up in the best environment. She spoiled him. She trusted him. One day while she slept, the snake slithered over and bit her, sending venom through her veins. She was shocked! As she lay dying, she asked the snake "How could you do this to me after all the good things I've done for you?!" Smiling, the snake replied, "You knew that I was a SNAKE when you picked me up."

The moral of the story is: When someone shows you who they are, believe them.

Sure, the snake was beautiful. Sure, the woman had treated the snake kindly. Surely the snake had never led such a charmed life as the one the woman afforded him. But, at the end of the day, it was still a snake. And a snake doesn't change its nature, no matter how well you treat it.

There are people in our lives who fit the same profile. Sometimes, we meet people who show us who they are straight out the gate. They show themselves to be mean-spirited, untrustworthy, egotistical, envious, needy, or downright devilish. Often, we see these character flaws and we dismiss them because the person seems not to direct their negative traits at us. We are not the object of their venom. We tell ourselves that we bring out the best in them, that maybe they're not as bad as they seem to be, that perhaps we can change them.

That's never the case.

Many of us have made this mistake. We get into relationships with men/women who cheated on their significant others and we don't expect them to cheat on us, too. We form friendships with people who never have a positive thing to say about anyone, and we think that we won't fall prey to the same negativity. But the result is always the same. In the end, we're left licking our wounds, suffering through a broken heart, nursing our bruised egos and wondering where we went wrong.

Chances are, we ignored the signs that clearly showed us who and what we were dealing with. More often than not, we watched these people turn on other people in their lives time and time again. But we told ourselves that we were different, that we were special.

Recently, my son encountered a similar situation. He came into my room one night, sat down on my bed and said, "Ma, tell me that story about the snake again?"

I did (in my best melodramatic storytelling voice LOL). He smiled, thanked me and left my room, no doubt applying that lesson to whatever situation he was dealing with.

I sat there and thought about my own recent encounters with snakes in the grass. Like the woman in the story, I had allowed some serpents into my midst over the years, seeing the beauty in them. I had enjoyed their alluring ways and their pretty colors. But in the end, they had still revealed themselves to be ugly underneath it all. Unlike the woman in the story, though, by the grace of God, I managed to escape unscathed. After all, I had known they were snakes when I picked them up, and had never lost sight of that fact. I had waited, knowing that eventually they would show their true colors. And I had been right!

No matter how cleverly disguised they are, be sure to keep an eye out for the snakes in the grass of your life. After all, a snake is a snake. And if you decide to pick one up anyway, keep your guard up, because inevitably it will set its sights on you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Side-Eye of the Week

There were quite a few contenders this week.

R. Kelly got a side-eye for claiming that his marriage ended after he watched the movie "The Notebook". He claimed that the film illustrated how the romance had died in his relationship with this wife, that as the credits rolled he sobbed and mourned his broken marriage, and realized that there was no salvaging it. *side-eye* So...I guess the infidelity, accusations of child molestation and peeing on kids had nothing to do with it, huh, Kells?

Congressman Jessie Jackson, Jr. was in the running as well. Having disappeared from Congress over a month ago, many were asking where he was and what was preventing him from attending Congressional sessions. His office released a statement claiming that he was being treated for "exhaustion". *side-eye* Then, after mounting public pressure (and an NBC news report), his camp announced this week that he is suffering from a "mood disorder". *side-eye again* Even Stevie Wonder can see that something ain't right with that story.

Mitt Romney gets a side-eye for allegedly courting Condoleeza Rice as a running mate. Doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is a thinly veiled attempt at drawing a large black and female group to the voting booths on election day. The two of them don't even see eye to eye on key issues like abortion. So who does Mitt think he's fooling? *side-eye*

But the biggest side-eye of the week is being awarded to the D.C. cop who worked as a motorcycle escort for First Lady Michelle Obama. The officer claimed that he would shoot the First Lady, and even went so far as to produce a photo on his cell phone of the gun he'd use to do it!

Officials dismiss this as a "bad joke by someone who should have known better", and have placed the officer on desk duty.

The First Lady has been a constant target since President Obama took office. She has been criticized for everything from her anti-obesity campaign to taking her daughters on vacation to Spain during a recession and even for wearing shorts while on vacation! It seems that there is no shortage of disdain for everything she says and does. But, this fool who made reference to shooting her took his hate a step further than even Rush Limbaugh. (And that's saying a lot!)

But, shoot the first lady for WHAT? Has she done something so egregious that it warrants such venomous comments? If so, what is it? Is it just because she's a black woman, perceived as "mean" just on the basis of her strength of character? Because, personally, I've never seen any indication that Mrs. Obama is anything but gracious, classy, intelligent and beautiful.

Let's face it, the Obamas know that they have haters. And they manage to take it all in stride.

But, the fool who had the nerve to make a sick "joke" about shooting our beloved First Lady needs more than desk duty. He should be immediately FIRED.

In the meantime, he gets my Side-Eye of the Week.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The "White Lines" Trilogy

Several years ago, I wrote a book called "White Lines" - the story of a young girl's battle with crack addiction and the unlikely love that develops between her and a drug dealer. It was my attempt at showing the drug game from the perspective of both the addict and the pusher, to reveal the way that all involved are affected, for better or worse.

Of all the books, I've written THIS ONE is the story I have felt the most connected to. The characters became real people to me. Jada was my flawed and troubled "friend in my head" and Born was the thugged-out and sexy guy that girls from the hood all fell in love with. The characters Sunny and Dorian, Jamari, Edna, Miss Ingrid (and even Shante and Mr. Charlie) provided my overactive imagination with story after story woven into the fabric of Jada and Born's lives. It was nearly impossible for me to tear myself away from the story, almost sad when I ended the book. I "missed" the characters after the last sentence was written.

At the urging of readers across the world, I picked up the storyline again to write the second installment, "White Lines II: Sunny", which focused on the sassy but classy heroine from part one. Sunny is one of the characters I've created that I truly LOVE. (Olivia Michaels and Zion Williams from "Criminal Minded", and Toya Blake from "Snapped" and "Aftermath" are also my beloved.) I like to peel back layer after layer from my characters' personas and reveal what lies beneath. So, Sunny's raw and uncensored manner was one that I enjoyed picking apart. As a whole, this crew has given me lots to work with.

But, NOW, I am hard at work on the third and final book in the "White Lines" saga. The characters may appear from time to time in future books. But THIS will be the last one completely centered around the crew we've all come to know and love. And, BOY, am I loving the way this one is developing.

Every writer's process is different. We each have a different method of creating. For me, the fun of writing a story is the "what will happen next?" aspect. While some authors outline their story at the beginning, knowing what will happen at the beginning, middle and end, for me the best part of the adventure of writing is letting the story take its own time unfolding. Each character's reaction to each situation is a surprise for me as I pen the tale. (Sounds crazy, right? I know that I'm the one who's writing it. But in my mind, the characters' actions are theirs alone, determined by who they are and what they would really do in the given circumstances.) So as I sit down night after night (my favorite time to write) in front of my computer, or as I sit on the subway, in the park, or the Staten Island Ferry with my favorite pen and my marble notebook (I'm so old school! :), I am always excited to "find out" what will happen next. It's truly a thrill!

But this time, the thrill is bittersweet. Knowing that this is the last chance at redemption, forgiveness, sobriety, and love for these "people" has me both excited and sad. Those who are familiar with my writing know that I don't believe in fake happy endings that aren't realistic. I don't like to insult my readers' intelligence that way. So, as the saga unfolds, I wonder who will have found peace, who will continue to wrestle with their demons, who will give up, who will persevere by the end of the novel. It is the most exciting story I have ever written.

Those of you who didn't appreciate the cliffhanger at the end of WL2 will love the closure part three brings. Get ready for some incredible highs (pun intended) and some devastating lows. And don't bother asking "when will it be done?" because I never know the story is complete until I know...feel me? But, trust that when this one finally gets completed, sent to the publisher, and finds its way to your bookshelf, it will be as bittersweet, emotional, hilarious, scandalous, romantic, devastating and juicy as it is for me.

So, please be patient with me. I promise it will be worth the wait.

(P.S. I have received all of your threats and warnings via Facebook, Twitter, and email that if I "kill off" Born, I will be stalked and attacked. LOL Duly noted! XOXO)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Putting it all in Perspective

Life has a funny way of reminding us what's important. Sometimes, when we've been focused on petty, trivial, insignificant things, God has a way of pointing us back to what's important - of shifting our focus and putting it all in perspective for us.

Take the situation between Usher and his ex-wife Tameka Foster.

Once upon a time they were in love, and together they built a happy blended family. But those good times were short lived, and their union ended in divorce. The situation turned ugly when they battled over money, visitation and the terms of their custody agreement. I blogged months ago about the sad state of affairs when Usher cried in court while Tameka sat by with a mean-spirited smirk on her face.

Clearly, the love that these two once shared had been replaced by hurt, anger, bitterness and scorn.

Fast forward to this weekend's tragic events.Tameka's eleven-year-old son was involved in a terrible accident and was hit in the head by a jet ski. Doctors proclaimed that, tragically, Kyle was brain dead. Usher, upon hearing of the accident, chartered a private plane for Tameka and rushed her to her son's bedside, where she has remained ever since. Soon, he joined her there and held vigil by young Kyle's bedside. (http://theybf.com/2012/07/08/update-tameka-raymonds-son-kyle-declared-brain-dead)

Anyone can see that Usher was unselfish, and did not resort to vindictiveness or negativity. There are many men who would have seen this situation as bad karma, and they may have turned away and opted not to get involved. After all, it wasn't one of his sons, so he had no obligation to do anything at all. But, Usher put all of that aside, and is said to be broken up about this tragedy, and he has clearly put their issues aside in order to be there for his ex-wife.

Isn't God incredible? Sometimes, in His divine wisdom, he teaches us lessons without ever 'saying' a word. Some lessons are harder than others, more painful and life-changing. But, if we allow ourselves the time to heal and if we are willing to do the hard work of self-examination, we can see the message that God is sending us when things go wrong. While this situation is definitely NOT ideal, and while Kyle's life has been cut tragically short, perhaps the only positive result of all of this will be that Usher and Tameka can put their issues with each other in perspective. Hopefully, they can set aside their petty problems and see the bigger picture: that life is short, that tomorrow is not promised, that the little things don't really matter at all. What does matter are the things we can't put price tags on - family, love, and the most precious gift we've all received called LIFE.

My prayers are with Tameka Foster and with Usher and the rest of their family. They are living every parent's worst nightmare. May God comfort them in their grief, and give them peace.

And may we all take a lesson from this. As relationships dissolve, friendships end, things fall apart, and life moves us in opposite directions, let's not sink into bitterness, ugly behaviour and resentment. Life is precious. And it never pays to sweat the small stuff. Let's never lose sight of that.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Side-eye of the week

It has been a few weeks since I blogged. I've missed you guys/gals! I am glad to be back at it, and I have lots of stories, epiphanies, and "Aha" moments to share with you. But FIRST, I have to share my "Side-Eye of the Week".

This particular Side-Eye is several weeks overdue. It is also one of the meanest side-eye's of all.

The loser this time is Vh1 and the trashy, stereotypical, demeaning and incredibly negative depictions of black and brown women they continuously air.

The network that brought us Flavor of Love, For the Love of Ray J, and Basketball Wives has now turned their attention to Atlanta, Georgia and the cast of Love & Hip Hop. I haven't personally watched an episode. But I have read all of the Facebook status updates, gossip websites, Twitter feeds, and magazine articles about the likes of Joseline, Mimi, and Stevie J. I've heard all about the rapper Lil Scrappy and his foolishly "ride or die" baby mama and his mother, the retired pimp. At the urging of my daughter's boyfriend ("You can't talk about it if you haven't watched it!", he said.) I even watched the last five minutes of one episode. What I saw burned my eyeballs and what I heard left me in complete shock.

A man dressed like a woman (let's face it, Rupaul looks more convincing than Joseline does), was crying to her "daddy" (a man who is not her father, but her manager) about the positive pregnancy result on the EPT test. "Daddy" had apparently been carrying on a sexual relationship with the cross dressing man who was pretending to be pregnant, and "daddy" now wanted the man to tell him whose baby he was imaginary-carrying. The cross dresser insisted that "daddy" was the only man he had slept with for months. "Daddy" chided the cross dresser, telling him that he should have 'taken care' of the situation before even coming to "daddy" with the problem. After all, "daddy" said, "you have photo shoots coming up, performances." Surely, there was no room for a pregnancy in their plans. As the episode wrapped up, they showed scenes from the next episode. The cross dresser was asking for 50% of something from "daddy". "Daddy" seemed shocked by the request, grabbed his ample crotch and asked the cross dresser, "You want 50% of this?!?"

I really don't know where to even begin. But, I'm reminded of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and their literal FIGHT for civil rights, equality, and freedom. I think back to the depictions of blacks in movies like "Gone with the Wind", a time when anytime you saw a black person on the screen, it was in the role of a slave, a maid, or a buffoon.

I fast forward mentally, and think about Barack Obama being in the White House, his wife and daughters and the positive images they portray. And I'm amazed that after coming so far as a race, TV networks like Vh1 sadly think that all we are interested in seeing is a group of neck-twisting, fighting, spitting, drink-throwing, sexually immoral, fame-hungry, ghetto fabulous fools who can't even put a decent sentence together.

As I watched for those five short minutes, I also couldn't help noting that the show is clearly scripted. We all know by now that reality TV is as fake as a $3 bill. But, at least the scripts on shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians are believable! At least the acting is good. Watching Love & Hip Hop, Basketball Wives Season 4 reunion, and the throwback shows like Flavor of Love, I got the feeling that the execs at Vh1 think we are too stupid to notice the bad acting and poor plot lines. I felt that my intelligence was being insulted, that my time was being wasted, that the network's sponsors were laughing all the way to the bank.

What also saddens me (and WORRIES me) are the intelligent, hardworking, literate, financially independent members of the black and brown communities who are PROUD to watch this show, who believe that there is nothing so bad about the depiction of pure ignorance that takes place. To them, this is purely entertainment, harmless, no big deal. They think folks like me should lighten up, or better yet, just turn the channel!

But I find it sad that these shows give ignorant bigots something to point to as an example. We say "black women aren't always confrontational and violent." But, any episode of any season of Basketball Wives says otherwise. We say, "We are independent women who don't need a man to be successful." But, the ladies on "Hollywood Exes" are ONLY famous for being married to [INSERT CELEBRITY]. We say, "It takes more than just money to make us happy." But dozens of women show up to date Flavor Flav - an unattractive black man with a mouth full of gold teeth, a set of viking horns, and a wall clock hanging around his neck. "All black men are not womanizing thugs with a bunch of baby mamas and the swagger of an old school pimp," is what we say. But, cue any of the men on Love & Hip Hop, For the Love of Ray J, or From G's to Gents and the "reality" is very different.

Let's face it, even with Barack Obama as President, there are still people who hold negative outlooks concerning black people. The Trayvon Martin case makes that painfully clear. There are still those who believe that the Obamas are the exception and not the norm. They hold their purses tighter when our sons walk by. They see our daughters as 'nappy headed ho's'. And Vh1 is only further reinforcing these negative stereotypes. The buffoons who sign up to play the characters are no different from the shucking and jiving Sambo's of yesterday. All they're missing is a banjo, some watermelon and a couple of "yessuh, massa"s.

It is despicable. And Vh1 has lost one viewer for good. SUPER SIDE-EYE to the powers that be who keep cranking out "reality" shows that surely make our black and brown forefathers ashamed and appalled, while a whole new generation tunes in and takes notes.